Tamara Thomsen was giving a scuba diving lesson in Wisconsin’s Lake Mendota when she noticed a piece of wood peeking out of the sand. Her student didn’t think much of it but Thomsen, who is a maritime archaeologist by trade, knew exactly what it was.
“This is not a joke. I found another dugout canoe,” she texted her boss.
The boat discovered in May was the second artifact Thomsen accidentally stumbled upon within the past year. In November 2021, Thomsen spotted a 1,200-year-old canoe while swimming in the same lake during her day off.
Archaeologists from the Wisconsin Historical Society — where Thomsen works — determined that the most recent find is even older — about 3,000 years old, the group announced on Thursday.
Thomsen said that when the radiocarbon dating results from came back, she wrote “1000 B.C.” on a Post-it note and stared in disbelief.
“It just makes you think about the people that were on this landscape where I live, and to imagine they were here hunting, gathering, fishing” she told NPR.
The canoe is about 14.5 feet long and carved from a single piece of white oak. It is believed to be the oldest canoe discovered in the Great Lakes region by roughly 1,000 years.
The two boats were located about 100 yards apart. Experts said the location and close proximity of the boats suggest that ancient villages may have once existed where Lake Mendota is located and the shoreline may have shifted over time.
The 3,000-year-old canoe is believed to be the earliest direct evidence of water transportation used by native tribes from the Great Lakes region.
Members from the Ho-Chunk Nation and Bad River Tribe joined the Wisconsin Historical Society to recover the canoe last spring.
“The recovery of this canoe built by our ancestors gives further physical proof that Native people have occupied Teejop (Four Lakes) for millennia, that our ancestral lands are here and we had a developed society of transportation, trade and commerce,” Marlon WhiteEagle, the president of Ho-Chunk tribe, said in a statement on Thursday.
Both boats discovered by Thomsen will undergo a two-year preservation process.
Thomsen said archaeologists are planning to work with the Ho-Chunk Nation to conduct the first systemic search in Lake Mendota and possibly discover more canoes this coming winter.
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